Debut CD From Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society Coming May 12th

February 18, 2009

On May 12th, New Amsterdam Records will release Infernal Machines (NWAM017), the debut studio recording by New York’s acclaimed 18-piece steampunk big band, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society.  The New York CD release party is planned for early May to be followed by tentative tour dates around the Northeast in late May and early June.  The group will also perform on May 31st at Germany’s legendary Moers Festival.

Led by award-winning Brooklyn-based composer Darcy James Argue, and featuring an esteemed cast of co-conspirators, Secret Society is regarded as “surely the most buzzed-about big band in town” (Time Out New York).  Infernal Machines, which takes its name from a John Philip Sousa quote about the dangers of music technology, features new definitive studio recordings of material Argue and the band have been developing since their first gig in 2005.

“My music for Secret Society,” Argue explains, “essentially comes out of me imagining an alternate reality where big bands were still widely popular (instead of a curious anachronism), and where jazz was still on speaking terms with other musical genres. What if you had this contemporary big band that had a shared sonic vocabulary with bands like Tortoise or TV On The Radio? What would that sound like?” 

“Some people, he continues, “have this belief that jazz is supposed to be something pure, uncontaminated by popular culture or outside influences. But that’s a relatively new idea, one that’s been imposed on the music only recently. That’s not something that Duke Ellington or Charles Mingus or any of those guys would have recognized.”

“As the name implies,” writes the New York Times‘ Nate Chinen, “this 18-piece big band is calibrated for maximum intrigue, with a sound that suggests Steve Reich minimalism as well as orchestral jazz in the lineage of Bob Brookmeyer (one of Mr. Argue’s mentors).” 

Time Out New York‘s Hank Shteamer adds, “No swing-era revivalist, Argue draws on the full spectrum of modern rock, jazz and classical music with his band, Secret Society.  Yet his complex, emotionally charged pieces handily transcend pastiche…the album ought to not only raise Argue’s profile, but also serve as a reminder that big-band jazz needn’t be a fossil.”

Despite the inherent obstacles facing a big band leader in 2009, Argue is one of the most visible and respected musicians in New York.  Part of that success comes from the broad-spectrum popularity of his blog, also called Secret Society, which covers relevant political issues as well as musical ones.  Musically, as’s R.J. Deluke recently observed, “He’s garnered critical praise from just about everyone who has heard the band.” 

Critics have called him “a young jazz master” (The New Yorker) and noted his penchant for “mixing jazz harmony, rock edge and postmodern angst into a new music creole” (Tom Greenland, AllAboutJazz-New York).  “The morning after,” declared Montreal Gazette reviewer Juan Rodriguez, “I was still stunned at what I’d heard—clearly some of the most ambitious and compelling sounds I’ve ever encountered in the past 40 years.”

Argue, a native of Vancouver, first made a name for himself as part of the Montreal jazz scene before moving to Boston in 2000 to study with legendary jazz composer, Bob Brookmeyer.  A veteran of the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop, he moved to New York three years later, and immediately began seeking out performers to make his distinctive vision for a modern-day big band a reality. 

His extensive resume also includes arranging work with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra featuring jazz/soul vocalist Lizz Wright, alt-country artist Shelby Lynne and the Klezmer Conservatory Band.  The recipient of a variety of commissions and composition awards, Argue will accept his latest, the SOCAN/CAJE Phil Nimmons Emerging Composer Award, in May at Canada’s National Jazz Awards in Toronto.  

Learn more at

The BBC And Exclaim! Review David S. Ware’s Shakti

February 2, 2009

Late last week, saxophonist/composer David S. Ware‘s latest release, Shakti (AUM Fidelity), earned reviews in two prominent international places, the BBC Web site and Exclaim!, a monthly Canadian publication.  

The BBC’s Chris Jones called Shakti “a mighty return for one of the greatest players alive today,” while Exclaim‘s Nilan Perera added, “Clear composition and strong, beautiful, connected improvising make this a most satisfying CD.”

Mario Pavone’s Trio Arc In Steve Greenlee’s Top 10 of 2008 (Boston Globe)

December 16, 2008

The Boston Globe‘s Steve Greenlee has named bassist/composer Mario Pavone’s Trio Arc (Playscape Recordings) one of his Top 10 CD Picks of 2008.

Trio Arc documents Pavone’s first collaboration with legendary pianist, and former mentor, Paul Bley in 35 years. The release of this entirely improvised trio session, featuring frequent collaborator Matt Wilson on drums, earlier this year marked the 40th anniversary of Pavone’s recorded debut on Bley’s 1968 LP, Canada (Canada Radio).

Greenlee writes, “Their simpatico replaces any need for structured timekeeping, and together they produce a beautifully odd amalgam of sounds.”

Mary Halvorson An Artist To Watch In 2009 Says Canada’s Exclaim!

December 16, 2008

The Canadian music and culture magazine, Exclaim!, has named guitarist/composer Mary Halvorson one of its Artists To Watch in 2009 in the December 2008/January 2009 issue.

Ms. Halvorson is one of the three artists chosen in the publication’s Destination Out section as part of its Year in Review.

Nate Dorward writes, “Her new trio disc Dragon’s Head shows off her tough, richly atmospheric picking, full of just-right dissonances in the tradition of Monk or Andrew Hill. It also reveals a striking composer, her tunes elegant networks of gear-changes, silences and felicitous repetitions that are less a personal style than an entire musical language.”